It is common to analyse the growth of a nation, its projected ideas through film, music and other popular culture. But, it is even more interesting when you look at nation building through architecture. This is what Nostalgia for the Future does. The film, produced by Films Division (FD), is a documentary that looks at four different architectural examples namely, Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara , Le Corbusier’s design of Chandigarh and his Shodhan Villa in Ahmedabad, as well as Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram and the Delhi Development Authority’s (DDA) housing projects.
Recently screened at TIFA Working Studios, the film is directed by filmmaker and cinematographer Avijit Mukul Kishore and Rohan Shivkumar, Deputy Director of Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environment Studies. Following the double-edged meaning of nostalgia, the documentary looks at modernist structures projected through the thought that the citizen’s body is the nation and the nation is the home. Paying homage to the very FD-style voice over in Hindi, reminiscent of films typically produced in the yesteryears, the filmmakers question the idea of India as a nation-state by looking at Nehruvian modernity to later mass producing houses for the masses.
Speaking of the future of architecture in India, in context of the Smart Cities Mission, Shivkumar says that cities are seen as way to develop but we aren’t asking the right questions. “It is important to acknowledge that cities are ways through which progressive and developmental ideas can be created. That is something that the new government also recognises. But, it doesn’t know what ideas it wants to create. It seems as if there is exclusivity but this goes against what India as a nation-state stands for. Earlier, cities were known to be a place where even someone like Dr Ambedkar could come and embrace modernity. Most of the big cities are places where people from rural hinterlands come and move away from feudal systems that hold them back. I don’t know whether that imagination continues today in the Smart Cities plan. It seems to be coming from technology through which modernity can develop. We aren’t asking how these cities will make us more free. How does it make people equal? But it’s the opposite. It is about how smart cities can be used for added surveillance and not added freedom.”
The documentary is interspersed with scenes from old Indian films including one from Amar (1954) starring Dilip Kumar, a lawyer portraying the modern man who rapes a village girl. This scene, says Kishore shows how India grapples with the concept of modernity. “This became a metaphor for the anxiety of modernity that we’re going through today.”
Shot on 16 mm and digital video, the film concludes, giving a glimpse into how we can reclaim public spaces to make them democratic. Speaking of how India projects itself through the upcoming statues of leaders, Kishore explains that the tone has changed from inclusivity and diversity, “In the earlier national integration projects, you’d see every clichéd character from a different community but now it is almost being shown as very militant and violent. Symbols are made to collect people under one imagination and it is a bit scary.”
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